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After My Divorce, I Packed My Sh*t & Moved To Korea

Never disqualify yourself, ever.

As Told To

As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer.

This is Rocky's story, as told to Charmin Michelle.

It was another performance, another night in Seoul. Here I was, on stage, dancing in super tight latex bottoms that had my tiger stripes on full display, and wondering how I had gotten to that point. My group and I were performing at a nightclub that night as we would often do. I remember looking over and seeing a couple watching nearby. The guy was really into my performance—his girlfriend, not so much.

Anyway, these particular latex bottoms showed part of my butt cheek, which made me so self-conscious about even setting foot on stage. But this was the performance that I signed up for, so I went for it. I gave it all that I had. The audience loved me.

Suddenly, the girlfriend got upset, and the couple left the club.

To be honest, I was so confused by her reaction. Like, sis, I'm working. But this night, like so many others, jump-started a clear understanding of how much of an impact that we can have on others. Here I was, extremely insecure about my own body, and unknowingly inducing such a strong reaction from the strangers I was showing it to.

If you haven't figured it out yet, no, I'm not a stripper, I'm a burlesque dancer in the depths of Seoul, Korea. I've been doing this for years, actually, and I'm one of the best in the industry. I started on a whim and used it as a means to make money and get acclimated to performing.

Photo Courtesy of Erockfor

I've lived in Korea off and on since 2014, initially to teach English. Basically, I was broke and needed a source of income because my bills were piling up. Relocating for a career became my plan of action.

My aim wasn't to move to Seoul to pursue music. It was to get myself out of debt.

I got married at the young age of 23, and I'll be the first to say that both of us were too young to have made that decision. We weren't compatible at all. We fought all the time about everything—big and small. It was abusive, even—something I've never said out loud before. Nothing about my marriage felt right.

A couple years into it, I started a translation business and was fortunate to see it do well during its beginning stages. One month, I made $6,000, which is major to a married 20-something. I felt on top of the world. Because of my success, I was willing to stay in the relationship even though it brought me zero joy. This caused me to put every ounce of my focus into my business and making money. Then, when my business started failing (my main client didn't need as much work anymore), I was stripped of everything I had relied on to bring me joy.

I was confronted with how miserable my living situation was. I was also broke again, which made everything worse.

So, in 2014, I took my little booty and boarded a plane to Seoul. I didn't have a plan whatsoever, and ultimately, I was just running to escape my bad relationship and financial woes.

It was the bravest thing I had ever done, even though I had no clue I was brave.

Life In Seoul

I'm of Cameroonian descent, born and raised in Montreal, Canada. So, although I stand out, a new culture never phased me. When I arrived, I got so caught up in pursuing "realistic" careers, that I put my music on hold and decided to publish a poetry book while working as an English teacher, writer, and translator.

I remember the first negative review I got on it too. It was my first attempt at creativity outside of my usual burlesque performances, and I was so crushed—in tears, even. Eventually, I developed a thicker skin.

I can't be everyone's cup of tea.

Also, lots of people simply try to project how they feel about themselves onto you. It's rarely personal, so I stopped taking it that way.

Another tough lesson.

Anyway, Korea is an amazing place once you become familiar. The dating is terrible, though, and I've had more weird run-ins than I care to count. But I also learned the importance of having confidence in myself. I mean, you have to be confident to live abroad—whether you're aware of that confidence or not. It's hard being away from my family. It isn't always the most fun thing, but, I'm happy I chose this path.

Okay, getting back on track with my story: one day, out of the blue, I decided I was done with just getting by. Singing makes me so freaking happy, I couldn't imagine doing anything else.

It was time.

The Birth of Erockfor

When converting to a full-time artist, I knew I didn't want to release music to crickets. By this time, I had built a platform as a poet (from my book release), and I knew I could rely on it to gradually test the waters. The plan was to pull a switch on them, like surprise! I'm a singer now! Well I always have been, but hopefully y'all will still rock with me! I mean, I do music for the love of it, but I also have to be able to sustain myself, so I've had to learn how to sell myself.

And self-belief is a superpower.

You can make great music, but what's your story? I've had to become clear on what my story is.

Now, I'm in a good space. I've been covered by various publications, and I've somehow managed to gain a crazy amount of support from Korean millennials. I've been compared to Macy Gray, Cyndi Lauper, Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse—which vocally, it definitely makes sense. I've also been exploring more Afrobeats. It's important for me to have that element of my heritage present in my music, as well as exploring different genres. Montreal is an extremely multicultural city so I have so many influences.

My music represents me perfectly and other first-gen kids who grew up in big cities.

Legacy, Legacy, Legacy

I believe in healing and taking the utmost care of my being. I meditate, I make holy water (which I bless myself, spray all over my apartment and drink), and I do yoga. I look over my intentions for 2020. I remind myself that my great-grandma was a high priestess and that I'm named after her. I recently got into stoicism, so I try to see the opportunity in everything and try to observe things objectively. I'm also very spiritual. I protect myself with mantras, which can act as spells.

Mantras are magic.

It's not lost on me how amazing it is to be able to travel and live life abroad. When I was a kid, my family couldn't afford it—it just wasn't my reality. But because higher learning is really affordable in Montreal, I was able to pay for my education just by working at coffee shops or restaurants and freelancing as a writer. My undergrad experience is the reason I was able to teach in Korea in the first place. When I was choosing a country to teach in, the fact that there was a community of black women definitely swayed me. I've gotten messages from black women asking me how I was able to teach here or sing and act here. I think it's important to tell your full story, as much as you feel comfortable to do so. Representation is important and I'm happy to show that a first-gen Canadian of Cameroonian descent can pursue a blossoming singing career all the way in Seoul.

At one point, I said I'd be content only singing in cafes or bars. And that's fine if it's not coming from a place of fear. But it was, and I was afraid of my potential in failing. Now, I see stadiums and award shows in my future. Why not? Ladies, let's go for it. Build on your skills. Never disqualify yourself, ever. Just try.

You may watch Erockfor's latest visual for "How Will I Know" here. You can also follow her on Instagram for her latest updates.

If you have a story you'd like to share, but aren't sure about how to put it into words, contact us at submissions@xonecole.com with the subject "As Told To" for your story to be featured.

Featured image courtesy of Erockfor

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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